Your Weekend Reader for Oct. 1-2

by | Oct 1, 2022 | Weekend Reader | 0 comments

No one, especially readers, appears to be happy about the companywide decision at Lee Enterprises — owners of the Gazette-Times and the Democrat-Herald — to standardize the comics pages at all of their newspapers. In the case of the G-T, that meant the loss of more than half of the strips that paper had been running. I’ll have more to say later in the blog about comics and puzzles and how important they are to readers. In the meantime, though, the first thing to understand is that this is entirely a corporate decision — even though G-T and D-H editor Penny Rosenberg didn’t say so in her column, which is to her credit, I guess. Second, Lee has been thinking about a companywide consolidation of the comics pages for years; even before I was laid off, corporate was talking about streamlining the comics as a cost-saving move. (It is telling that every comic strip on the new page is handled by the same syndicate.) The one good thing about getting laid off was that I didn’t have to be in the office the day the new comics page was unveiled. Finally, if you think the move will clear the way for Lee papers to hire more journalists for their understaffed newsrooms, let me just say this: No. Here to take the longer view is this story from The Washington Post, which adds perspective to Lee’s decision and documents years of decline among newspaper comic strips.

Jeff Manning at The Oregonian/OregonLive continues his essential coverage of the crisis facing Oregon’s health system with a new story: Manning reports that more than 750 patients statewide are being essentially warehoused at Oregon hospitals because rehabilitation facilities and nursing homes don’t have the nurses and other caregivers to treat them. In addition to the statewide labor shortage, the state’s hospitals are awash in red ink, losing $317 million thus far this year. “The system can break,” said one health-care executive, “and we are getting ever closer to that breaking point.” The story is exclusive to Oregonian subscribers.

I believe I was writing months ago in the Weekend Reader about how this year’s gubernatorial race would be a barnburner, and I wasn’t wrong — now, the race even has attracted some national attention. The race got hotter this last week, with the three candidates — Republican Christine Drazan, Democrat Tina Kotek and Betsy Johnson, who’s running without party affiliation — meeting in Bend for a debate. And two statewide polls suggested that the race now is a dead heat between Drazan and Kotek, with Johnson running behind. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that Johnson isn’t polling better. I also wonder how the dynamics of this three-way race would have changed if the state had embraced ranked-choice voting; Randy Stapilus, a longtime Oregon journalist, asked the same question in a column that appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Stapilus notes how Benton County kind of adopted ranked choice voting a few years ago, but it hasn’t played a real role in any election here. (I should note here again that I occasionally do freelance work for the Oregon Capital Chronicle.)

A new study from UCLA confirms that last year’s lethal “heat dome” event was a freakish, once-every-10,000-years, event — but climate change made it worse, according to this story from OPB. And while we didn’t have anything like the heat dome this past summer, a scientist at Portland State University told OPB that we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that climate change is affecting us in less-extreme ways: This summer, at least a dozen Oregon cities experienced the hottest July and August on record.

Speaking of OPB, I hope you noticed that reporter April Ehrlich, who was arrested and handcuffed while she tried to report on a police sweep of a homeless camp in Medford in 2020, has filed a federal lawsuit arguing that her civil rights were violated. Defendants include the city of Medford, the Medford Police Department and Jackson County. Ehrlich’s arrest sparked a national outcry, but it still took the city nearly a year to drop the criminal charges against her. She was working for Jefferson Public Radio at the time, but now works for OPB. The lawsuit was reported by The Oregonian, and the story is exclusive to Oregonian subscribers.

NPR had a story this week about the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Oregon, and its artistic director, Nataki Garrett. It’s been a rough ride lately for Garrett and OSF, with the pandemic and smoke from wildfires playing havoc with the festival. But she remains focused on diversifying the festival to increase its appeal beyond the aging (and often primarily white) audiences that have supported it over the years; this is an issue of urgent importance not just to OSF, but to other arts organizations nationwide. Not everyone is happy about the changes — in the short run, it means fewer productions of Shakespeare plays — and Garrett has been the target of some criticism and, shamefully, death threats. NPR reports that she now travels with a security team in public. To be fair, I’m intrigued by the ideas driving Garrett’s staging next season of “Romeo and Juliet,” but also hope that the festival can find the space to program some of the Bard’s lesser-popular plays, like this season’s “King John,” which runs through the end of October. (And maybe bring back the upstart crow collective’s “Bring Down the House,” which played only briefly before the pandemic shut down that year’s season.)

Speaking of the pandemic, you might have heard that it’s over. You bet — if you think we’ve triumphantly crossed the finish line at a time when COVID is on track to kill at least 100,000 Americans a year, triple the typical toll of the flu, and when at least 50,000 infections are being recorded every day. And don’t tell the 19 million adults with long COVID that the pandemic is over. The Atlantic’s outstanding science reporter Ed Yong argues that calling the pandemic over is like “calling a fight ‘finished’ because your opponent is punching you in the ribs instead of the face.” Yong goes on to note that it will all happen again, unless the United States takes steps to remedy the social inequities and weaknesses that allowed this pandemic to cut such a deadly swath. The story is exclusive to Atlantic subscribers.

Finally this weekend: If you think you’ve waited a long time (more than a decade!) for the “Avatar” sequel, you must really be impatient for the sequel to “Hocus Pocus,” which just dropped on Disney+, some 29 years after the original debuted. I’ll be honest: The first “Hocus Pocus” just isn’t a very good movie, so it’s a surprise that the sequel is drawing very positive reviews.

We can compare notes next weekend about “Hocus Pocus 2.” In the meantime, this might be a good week to get your flu shot. See you next weekend.

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